By: Kieran Douglas
The recent McMaster Students Union presidential election concluded with two of its candidates disqualified, including the president-elect. Rule-breaking among the candidates was so common that Connor Wong, the satirical option, was the only one to abide by them.
Is it the case that this class of presidential candidates fought particularly dirty campaigns? Hardly. An examination of the election night meeting minutes reveals a fleeting glimpse at campaign regulations that seem to nearly guarantee a candidate will blunder into violating at least one of them. The standards by which a candidate will be judged are frustratingly opaque in their public inaccessibility. The “How Do I Run?” guide on the Elections Department’s website states that rules are distributed in the nomination package and recommends candidates become familiar with them, though the website is unclear about where they can be found.
The contents of the meeting minutes from Jan. 25, election night, are alarming. The elections committee sustains a habit of retroactively adding individuals to campaign teams, often resulting in multiple violations and fines levied against candidates for a single event. This happened six separate times across all candidates, even in situations where it was unclear whether the relevant campaign had control over the individuals responsible. Muhammed Aydin, now president-elect, was fined because “an eager friend” posted to a Facebook group in support of him; I fail to see how Aydin was culpable in this case.
Ikram Farah was similarly fined for appearing in the Instagram story of an MSU part-time manager. The individual who posted it was added to the campaign by the electoral committee, who then fined the campaign a second time for employing a PTM not on a leave of absence. Sensible as it is that the Elections Department would be interested in monitoring the social media activity of candidates to ensure a consistently fair competition, it is difficult to ignore the fervent excess with which the Committee motions and unanimously passes fines.
There is also the matter of Rule 7.9.8, which is violated with the “deliberate” violation of any other rule. I presume that it was introduced to deter candidates from simply embracing the various fines they incur, as its conviction entails an additional $30 fine for any offence it is attached to.
However, its use seems to instead normalize the frequency with which the committee charges ambiguously responsible candidates for seemingly minor offences. The existence of a rule that distinguishes some violations as ‘deliberate’ implies that a lack of culpability is no defence even while it can be used in prosecution. This judiciary double standard ensures that candidates may be fined when fault is not theirs, and that they will be fined more heavily when it is.
While a functional system of regulation and adjudication is an intrinsic virtue, the behaviour of the Electoral Committee has real consequences. Though her violations in part seem more serious than those of the other candidates, Ikram Farah won the vote and was disqualified days later. The decision of the Electoral Committee in this case obscures the ostensibly democratic will of the MSU. Whether Farah deserved this fate or not, this decision should never be taken lightly, and the saturation of severe violations this election cycle suggests that sometimes it might be. Furthermore, though individual violations usually incur fines between $15 and $30, those charges can easily snowball, especially given the tendency of the Committee to “double-up” offences.
In the face of such a rule-breaking epidemic, it is worthwhile to consider that the rules and their application might be the cause. This evidence shows that reform is necessary for both the maintenance of democracy and the sake of student candidates. The campaign rules should be revised and published, as the students of the MSU deserve transparency, efficiency and sensibility in their elections.